Post-Divorce and Other Family Law Matters
Your marriage may be over, but troubles with your former spouse may not be. All too often, a former husband or wife fails to honor the terms of their divorce. Not only is this a violation of the Court ordered divorce decree, it is also terribly unfair to the other spouse and can mean he or she is left without enough money to live or provide for the children, no health benefits, a loss of parenting time, alienation of the children, or worse.
A post-divorce action is a legal action that takes place after the Divorce Judgment Absolute terminates the marital relationship. A post-divorce action involves any legal action on the part of either spouse taken to enforce or modify the Judgment of Divorce.
If your former spouse isn’t honoring the terms of your divorce, they are in contempt and you have the right to protect yourself. For example, if your ex-spouse has stopped paying child support or alimony (or is paying too little or too late), you may need to file a timely Complaint for Contempt with the Court. Other examples of contempt can include your ex-spouse failing to reimburse you for out-of-pocket costs for the children, refusing to pay for child-related expenses, cancelling health, dental or life insurance coverage, refusing to provide you with information about the children, interfering with your parenting time or alienating the children against you. If your spouse is found in contempt by the Court, he or she will be ordered to rectify things and may even be ordered to pay your legal fees.
If the Court determines that there has been a knowing violation of a clear Court Order for child support, the Court will issue a Judgment of Contempt which may demand that your ex pay you the outstanding balance or risk incarceration.
If your spouse files a Complaint for Contempt against you, you need legal representation by an attorney whose expertise is family law. Contempt actions are very serious. If you find yourself in a situation where you can’t afford to pay obligated support or other expenses due to a change of your circumstances, or you think you shouldn’t be paying as much because of a change in your ex-spouse’s circumstances, you need to seek the Court’s approval, even if your ex-spouse agrees to the change..
People get laid off, they get sick, they move. If you have involuntarily lost your job, become ill or are now disabled, are moving (where the distance will impact parenting time) or are retiring, it may be necessary to request the Court to modify the terms of your divorce by filing a Complaint for Modification. An experienced attorney can advise you as to whether your change in circumstances is material enough to satisfy the Court before you spend money in legal fees. Likewise, if your former spouse has filed a Complaint for Modification for any of the above, or is trying to change custody or limit your parenting time, you should get a knowledgeable attorney’s opinion as to whether a modification is appropriate or whether your ex is just trying to circumvent his/her obligations or deny you your children. In either case, if a modification is indeed appropriate or in the children’s best interest, your attorney can help you try and reach a settlement with your former spouse and make sure the modification is properly memorialized for the Court.
Generally, a modification will be granted only if the person seeking the change can prove a “material and substantial change in circumstances” since the divorce. Things change all the time, especially when it comes to money and children, but a modification will only be granted if the change is material (substantial). In some cases, it must be proven that the change of circumstances is adversely impacting the children, or that without a change the children will be harmed. For example, your ex-spouse is having someone else watch the children for a significant period of time during their scheduled parenting, drop-offs and pick-ups have become adversarial, you are concerned as to the well-being of your child when with your ex-spouse, or you and your ex-spouse cannot agree on serious issues pertaining to your child. When it comes to children, the Court will always look at what is in the best interest of a child.
On March 1, 2012, the Alimony Reform Act of 2011 took effect. The Reform Act provides guidelines, not absolutes, which are being slowly interpreted and enacted by the Court. Generally, the Reform Act classifies post-reform alimony orders into four distinct categories specifically defined in the statute: 1) general term alimony; 2) rehabilitative alimony; 3) reimbursement alimony; and 4) transitional alimony. These classifications are distinguished from one another based on the nature, duration, and amount of the payment.
For people with pre-reform alimony orders, the big question is what impact the Reform Act has on an existing alimony order. Speaking to an experienced divorce attorney will help you clarify whether or not your existing alimony order is modifiable, and what you could expect the modification to look like – whether you are the person paying alimony or the person receiving alimony.
Modification and Contempt actions are governed by special rules in Massachusetts. For example, you need to know where to file, what to file, how to effectuate service, how to respond to a Complaint for Contempt or Complaint for Modification, how to seek and answer discovery, and the list goes on. There are laws pertaining to all of these things, as well as statutes and case law relating to issues such as child support, child custody, parenting time, child expenses, removal of a child from the Commonwealth and alimony.
When dealing with post-divorce issues you can’t rely on guesswork or your ex-spouse’s interpretation of the law. You need the advice of an attorney with expertise in the areas of divorce and post-divorce legal matters. Initial consultations are free. Call us and we will tell you how you can protect your rights.
The Law Office of Gina M. Ghioldi also provides representation in the area of paternity.